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  • Thierry Spanjaard

Digital ID gets steam in Europe and worldwide

ID document dematerialization is on its way with a worldwide boom in Digital ID projects; however, security remains at the core of those projects and may slow down wide scale adoption. How to ensure a digital ID system is secure and prevent ill-intentioned smartphone users to just a present on screen a forged copy of an ID? Multiple projects are going on worldwide to deploy secure Digital IDs infrastructures.

In a recent article in Biometric Update, Vince Graziani, CEO of IDEX describes Digital ID as “a collage of verified data about you. It consists of the things you are – biometric data from fingerprint, face or voice; things you know – name, date of birth and address; things you have – passport, social security number or qualifications; and dynamic data – such as financial, retail or mobile interactions. This puts security directly back into the hands of the user as they become their own authentication and garners the confidence needed to make digital identity commonplace.”

The European Digital ID Wallet, that was first announced by the European Commission in 2020, is on its way. Its goal is to give each European citizen access to a digital ID that is recognized everywhere in the EU, while keeping control of data in the hands of each citizen. However, according to Euractiv, an independent European media specializing in EU affairs, while the initial project was to define the European Digital Identity Wallet as an empty shell where various agents would add pieces of data, the new trend, starting from the initiative of the Czech presidency of the EU Council, is to consider the European Digital Identity Wallet as a “unique and persistent identifier.” Several topics are still under discussion such as the interoperability with existing electronic IDs, or the exact standards governing advanced electronic signatures and seals.

Even if the detailed specification is still a moving target, six countries: Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Latvia and Norway, have formed a consortium called NOBID - Nordic-Baltic eID Project – to launch a pan-European payments pilot for the EU Digital ID Wallet. The goal of the consortium is to demonstrate how payments and ID can be combined effortlessly, across borders and in multiple currencies. They will build upon existing payment infrastructure to enable payment issuance, instant payments, account-to-account transfers and payment acceptance both in-store and online. The consortium is supported by players in the payment ecosystem: DSGV in Germany, DNB and BankID in Norway, Nets in Denmark, Intesa Sanpaolo, PagoPA and ABILab in Italy and Greiðsluveitan in Iceland. Technology partners include Thales, iProov, Signicat, RB, Auðkenni, IPZS, Poste Italiane, Intesi Group, InfoCert, FBK and Latvian State Radio and Television Centre.

Other governments pursue objectives of their own. The UK government has awarded Experian two new contracts to provide digital identity infrastructure, with a combined value of nearly GBP 11 million (EUR 12.4 million), which cover the development of identity fraud check services for the UK Digital Identity Program and the provision of services for digital ID validation. The French government is launching “France Identité,” which proposes to dematerialize the latest generation of French ID cards into citizen’s mobile phones, allowing them to prove their identity in the physical and online worlds.

At the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Apple is already ahead of most projects with their announcement that in the latest iOS 16 operating system, users can now share their digital identity documents stored in the wallet with third-party apps. This way, users will be able to easily prove their age when they access restricted contents or their identity when they purchase a flight ticket, for instance. The function is only available after the user consent, controlled by FaceID or TouchID. Already US states of Arizona and Maryland support Apple digital ID for their driving licenses or other ID documents, while several more state authorities have announced plans to join in.

Another private initiative comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which announced a new funding commitment including US$ 200 million (EUR 205 million) for digital public infrastructure, which includes digital ID and civil registry databases, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, which calls for legal identity for all people worldwide, including birth registration, by 2030. Efforts to meet that goal have been tied to digital identity programs around the world, in large part due to the obvious impracticality of registering a billion people without ID to legacy analog systems, and the limited value of any such system, says Biometric Update. The US$ 200 million (EUR 205 million) is also earmarked to support interoperable payment systems and data-sharing systems.

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